Fathers Wallace, Driscoll celebrate 70 years of priesthood

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALMOUTH, Mass. — There was a time when part of Father Francis Xavier Wallace’s daily routine included swimming laps in the pool at the local YMCA.

“That was quite a long time ago,” Father Wallace said, smiling. “I used to do laps about five days a week, sometimes six. Those were the days!”

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These days, 95-year-old Father Wallace is mostly confined to his bed in a room at the Royal Nursing Home in Falmouth. Despite not being able to get out and do things on his own, he seems content and perks up when a surprise visitor strikes up a conversation.

“I feel fine,” Father Wallace recently told The Anchor. “I don’t get up at all, but that’s OK with me. I look out and I see the church and see the automobiles pass by. I couldn’t be in a better situation. They tell me I’m about 95 or 96 years old — so I’m old!”

Father Wallace’s first-floor room in the rehabilitation center has a pristine view of the front entrance of the adjacent St. Patrick’s Church — one of the only two parishes he was assigned to during his active ministry as a priest in the Fall River Diocese.

As the oldest priest in the diocese, Father Wallace is now in his 70th year of priesthood — a milestone that was duly noted at the recent Chrism Mass by his bishop and brother priests, although he was unable to attend.

Both he and classmate Father John Paul Driscoll were ordained by Bishop James E. Cassidy on May 31, 1947 in St. Mary’s Cathedral — 70 years ago this month.

“I’m a little older than Father John Paul — he’s a little younger than I am, but we were ordained at the same time,” Father Wallace said.

While he struggles with significant hearing loss, Father Wallace’s replies are always robust and firm, in the same deep baritone voice that he used to preached countless homilies, often peppered with the same sharp wit and humor that has never waned.

“How many years ago was that? Seventy? Oh, my goodness,” he joked. “Well, I must be one of the oldest priests in the diocese!”

Born in Beverly on Nov. 30, 1921 to Harry William Wallace and Florence Louise Hayes, Father Wallace grew up in New Bedford and attended Holy Family School for his grammar and high school years before going on to St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, N.H. and entering St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md.

“I grew up in New Bedford, but my family background was actually in Hopkinton — that’s where the Wallaces came from,” Father Wallace said. “Of course, it’s known today for the Boston Marathon. I used to watch the marathon every year, but I haven’t seen it lately. I don’t watch much TV now.”

Indeed, the TV in Father Wallace’s room is hidden behind rows of flowers and cards from well-wishers, obviously unused.

“I don’t bother with it,” he said. “I think I’m better off. I sometimes listen to the radio to get news.”

After his ordination in 1947, Father Wallace’s first assignment was with Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich.

Four years later in 1951, Father Wallace entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, which he would proudly serve for the next 26 years, eventually retiring from military service with the rank of colonel in 1977.

Upon returning to the diocese, Father Wallace found himself at St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth, where he served until his retirement from full-time ministry in 1994.

“I came to St. Patrick’s when I left the Army way back when and I stayed there,” Father Wallace said. “I’ve only been in two parishes in the diocese — St. Patrick’s and Corpus Christi. And in between was my time away in the Army. I served in Korea and Vietnam — those were my wars. Other than that, here I am talking to (The Anchor). So that’s about the extent of my illustrious career.”

Another highlight — at least in the eyes of this reporter — was helping officiate a wedding at St. Mary’s Church in Onset nearly 14 years ago. When gently reminded of the celebration, Father Wallace’s eyes widened.

“So you’re the one and only Ken Souza from The Anchor,” Father Wallace said. “Oh, for goodness’ sake. Give my very best to your dear wife.”

Until his recent health issues, Father Wallace had been residing just steps away at St. Patrick’s rectory, and he said his friend and pastor there, Father Timothy J. Goldrick, checks in on him from time to time.

“Father Tim is very supportive of me here and he keeps a close eye on me,” Father Wallace said. “I’m very happy here and they take good care of me.”

As an award-winning columnist with The Anchor, Father Goldrick often mentions Father Wallace, whom he calls “FXW,” in his “The Ship’s Log: Reflections of a Parish Priest” observations. In fact, Father Goldrick — a well-known dog aficionado — noted that Father Wallace was instrumental in convincing him to adopt the latest canine companion for the rectory.

Upon welcoming the new greyhound, Lurch, into the parish pack, Father Wallace pronounced: “And now this rectory is complete. We have a dog.”

“Lurch is the new one — he’s a lurcher!” Father Wallace said, laughing. “As Harry Truman said years ago: ‘If you need a friend in Washington, get a dog!’ They truly are man’s best friend.”

Speaking of Washington, Father Wallace doesn’t pay much attention to politics or current affairs anymore, despite his years of military service. And he’s given up his one-time hobby of clipping and collecting newspaper articles of interest.

“I always liked The Wall Street Journal,” he said. “They seem to look at Uncle Sam the same way I do. I always thought that they were the best of all the newspapers for that reason.”

Looking back over 70 years of serving God and country, Father Wallace doesn’t have any regrets.

“All my days have been good days, including my days in here,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy, considering the way my life turned out. To be a priest all these years has taken me here, there and everywhere. I’m very happy to have been a priest for 70 years!”

Like his fellow retiree and classmate, Father John Paul Driscoll is equally nonchalant about having now been ordained for 70 years.

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“It’s just a matter of living,” Father Driscoll recently told The Anchor. “I’ve done a few things, but everyday has been a highlight of my priesthood.”

One of those “few” things was serving as the assistant general manager and editorial writer for The Anchor when the diocesan newspaper was founded by Bishop James L. Connolly in 1957. Father Daniel F. Shalloo would serve as The Anchor’s first general manager and editor.

“Msgr. Shalloo was pretty much doing everything and I came in as an editorial writer, really,” Father Driscoll said. “I was with (the newspaper) for 19 years.”

Father Driscoll, now 92, is living out his golden years at the Catholic Memorial Home in Fall River. The man who once served as secretary and chancellor under Bishop Connolly is quick to credit the work of Bishop James E. Cassidy and Msgr. Raymond T. Considine for providing such top-notch health care facilities in the diocese.

“They are all very cooperative and very pleasant here at (Catholic Memorial Home),” Father Driscoll said. “Bishop Cassidy did a good job, and so did Msgr. Considine.”

Although Father Wallace took a detour into military service, it was Father Driscoll who was — ironically enough — literally “born on the fourth of July.”

“Everyone seems to remember my birthday, that’s for sure,” Father Driscoll said.

The Fall River native was born July 4, 1924 to the late John W. and Julia (Curley) Driscoll. He attended SS. Peter and Paul School in Fall River and Msgr. Coyle High School in Taunton. He later enrolled in Holy Cross College in Worcester before entering St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. He was ordained with Father Wallace on May 31, 1947.

He was first assigned to serve as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Osterville.

“When Bishop Cassidy gave us our assignments, he said he was sending us to ‘the missions,’” Father Driscoll recalled. “I had no idea what ‘the missions’ meant. But it ended up being Osterville. There was Osterville, Centerville, Cotuit, Marstons Mills — we had mission churches in the villages there.”

Assigned temporarily to SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Fall River in 1955, Father Driscoll was named administrator of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Swansea in 1969. He was later named pastor of St. Lawrence Martyr Church in New Bedford in October 1972, where he would remain for almost 29 years until his retirement from full-time ministry in 2001.

“I was 77 years old when I retired from active ministry,” Father Driscoll said. “To me, every day has been a highlight in my priesthood. There are some challenges every day, but you take it one day at a time.”

Father Driscoll fondly recalled his tenure at St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, and he’s happy to know St. Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity are still working nearby in the convent across the street.

“I gave them a talk every Thursday for nine years,” he said. “I met St. Teresa (of Calcutta) when she came to visit in New Bedford. As a matter of fact, she threw all the nuns out of the room and she and I had about a 20-minute talk. I won’t tell anybody what she said. But she was an amazing person!”

Father Driscoll’s other assignments included being president of the Priests’ Senate, chairman of the Personnel Board, a member of the Board of Diocesan Consultors and Divine Worship Commission, dean of the New Bedford area, and moderator of the New Bedford Catholic Women’s Club.

In 2000, Father Driscoll was named “Person of the Year” by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for his many accomplishments and for being a “priest dedicated to a life of service to God, our Father.”

Father Driscoll was also a close, personal friend of the late Cardinal Humberto Sousa Medeiros, the former Archbishop of Boston who died in 1983. Even though Father Driscoll preached during Cardinal Medeiros’ consecration as bishop, it’s still difficult to talk about his friend to this day.

“I can’t. I have a difficult time talking about him,” he said. “We were very close. Everybody who knew him always spoke so fondly of him.”

When asked his impression of the Church today, Father Driscoll said the one big challenge seems to be increasing vocations to the priesthood.

“That’s the Church’s biggest problem today — the shortage of priests,” he said. “But God is always with us, so we have to know that. I think our bishop is working to bring more vocations to the diocese. We’re all praying for that. And there are a few studying in the seminary now, which is always good.”

With dinner time approaching, Father Driscoll moves from his first-floor room to the open dining area, towing a walker along for support.

He says he’s “feeling well” these days and for a 92-year-old, he thinks he looks “pretty good.”

Then he pauses to add: “considering.”

Like Father Wallace, he seems content and joyful and counts every day as a blessing.

“Parishioners and priests drop in to say hello from time to time,” he said, smiling. “Every day has been wonderful.”


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts